As regular readers know, even since the passage of the FIRST STEP Act, I have been talking up 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) as a critical and valuable new mechanism to reduce problematic prison sentences in any and every case in which the defendant presents “extraordinary and compelling reasons” for the reductions. To date, it seemed that the imprisonment reduction authority granted by 3582(c)(1)(A) had been used almost only for so-called compassionate release situations in which a prisoner was extremely ill or had an extreme family situation.
But now, thanks to this posting by Shon Hopwood, I see that District Court Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo resentenced Conrado Cantu under this provision via a thorough and thoughtful order explaining why, in the wake of the FIRST STEP Act, “when a defendant brings a motion for a sentence reduction under the amended provision, the Court can determine whether any extraordinary and compelling reasons other than those delineated in U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13 cmt. n.1(A)–(C) warrant granting relief.” United States v. Cantu, No. 1:05-CR-458-1, 2019 WL 2498923 (S.D. Tex. June 17, 2019) (reprinted opinion available for download below).
As Shon explains in this post, this Cantu case may be the first in which a federal judge has “held that nothing in the statutory text of § 3582(c), nor the Sentencing Guidelines, precludes a judge from making its own determination of what are ‘extraordinary and compelling’ circumstances warranting a reduction of sentence.” Shon and I think this is exactly the right reading of 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) after the changes made by the FIRST STEP Act. Before FIRST STEP, the Bureau of Prisons was the gatekeeper for what motions should be brought for a reduction of imprisonment based on “extraordinary and compelling reasons.” Congress was clearly discontent with how that was going (and for good reason), and so now judges are to decide without a gatekeeper when a term of imprisonment should be reduced based on “extraordinary and compelling reasons.”
In light of all the big federal criminal justice rulings on behalf of criminal defendants in the last few days (especially Rehaif and Davis), I am wondering and hoping litigants and judges might now start to see the value of using 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) to operationalize some new precedents rather than rely only or even primarily on 2255 motions. There are a number of problematic procedural issues that can arise when a prisoner tries to get a favorable SCOTUS ruling applied retroactively through a 2255 motion. But if the prisoner can show that a new SCOTUS ruling is part of what provides “extraordinary and compelling reasons” for a prison reduction (and such a reduction is in keeping with the traditional 3553(a) factors), perhaps motions via 3582(c)(1)(A) will go down easier than 2255 motions.
A few prior related posts on § 3582(c)(1)(A) after FIRST STEP Act:
- Compassionate release after FIRST STEP: Should many thousands of ill and elderly federal inmates now be seeking reduced imprisonment in court?
- Sad start to what should become happier compassionate release tales after passage of FIRST STEP Act
- Encouraging new reports about encouraging new compassionate release realities thanks to FIRST STEP Act
- Highlighting how judges can now bring needed compassion to compassionate release after FIRST STEP Act
- Federal judge pens extraordinary and compelling order requesting US Attorney to vacate old stacked 924(c) conviction in extraordinary and compelling case
- Is anyone collecting and analyzing sentence reduction orders under § 3582(c)(1) since passage of the FIRST STEP Act?
- Good day for thinking hard about sentencing second looks and second chances